Sunday, September 21, 2008

Going Overboard

Jonah ran away from the LORD.

                        Jonah 1.3

Who, How, What… and Where

I’m completely convinced we’re created by God as we are. Our beings—what we bring to the world, i.e., gender, ethnicity, and sexuality—are what He gives us to work with. We fashion personalities: attitudes, behaviors, and values to promote our wellbeing. But there’s more to us than who we are (being), how we are (personality), and what we achieve (success). God made us for two specific reasons: to embody His presence and bring Him pleasure. Where we are impacts our ability to do both.

Even in this age of data, demographics, and projections, it’s hard to fathom the infinite details involved in our making. Knowing exactly where He wanted us to be, God accounted for every person, situation, and challenge we’d meet. He shaped each of us uniquely for those things, placing us where we are as His expression and for His honor. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: God has a singular plan for every one of us. The question is how well do we map our lives to His plan?

On the Run

We can’t always be certain we’re in the right place, doing the right thing. But there are times when we're fully aware of where God wants us to be and what He expects us to do. Contention ensues between His plan and ours. If both move in synch, it’s no problem. It’s when we avoid the people and places He leads us to that we head for trouble. Ask Jonah. He knows.

God told Jonah to minister in Nineveh, a wicked, inhospitable city. Instead, he bought a ticket to Tarshish, a friendlier port. It may have needed his ministry, too. But he didn’t set sail for that. Jonah was on the run, trying to escape God’s plan. Relieved at dodging the Nineveh job, he napped. He awoke to terrified cries at a storm that rose so abruptly and inexplicably it had to be an act of God. Something or someone had gone seriously wrong. Initially, he said nothing, hoping to ride out the storm. It continued to batter the ship and he came clean. “Throw me overboard,” he told the sailors, “and you’ll be spared.”

Environmental Disturbances

Some of us currently—or may one day—find we’re off God’s map. We’re not lost. We’re there by choice, ignoring His call to serve unpleasant people and places. By being out of place, however, we disturb the environment. Like Jonah, we’re probably oblivious to this. We curl up and doze off, thinking we’re safe. But our plan will eventually stir up trouble, not only endangering us but also those around us. Sooner or later, we'll have to deal with the fact that we've chosen a destination located nowhere in God's plan.

Are we where God created us to be? If so, let’s accomplish all He’s given us to do. But if we’re on the run—if we’re not where He needs us and we know it—perhaps it’s time to consider going overboard. It’s a frightening idea, leaping out of our comfort zones into seas of uncertainty. Yet, as Jonah’s story bears out, once we’re back on God’s map, amazing things happen.

Running away from where God wants us to be only leads to trouble--for us and those around us.

(Tomorrow: I Surrender!)

Postscript: Places to Be

Thankfully, understanding God’s plan and discovering our place in His world isn’t left solely to us. He’s provided able assistance through people whose knowledge, experience, and encouragement help keep us on course. In Ephesians 4.11-13, Paul wrote, God “gave some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.” (How’s that for a run-on sentence?)

We need compassionate leaders to build our confidence and set examples for us to follow. We need the company of other believers we can fellowship with and reach out to in moments of weakness and distress. We need places to be who we are, as honest individuals and followers of Jesus. As people often categorized under “alternative lifestyle,” we need a healthy alternative to the many unhealthy alternatives relentlessly beckoning us away from God’s map.

I’m happy to add two new “alternatives” to the Straight-Friendly “Gay-Friendly Churches” list. The emails I’ve exchanged with their pastors this past week leave no doubt that they’re passionately committed to inclusion and guide their people with great care and understanding. I recommend them wholeheartedly.

Expressions Community Fellowship, Oklahoma City, OK

The United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, NY

Finally, if you attend or visit any of the churches listed here, it would be nice to hear from you. When you get a moment, send an email describing what your church is like, what you’ve experienced, learned, and gained from it, etc. From time to time, I’ll share comments I receive with the Straight-Friendly readers. (Note: please include a sentence explicitly giving your permission to be quoted publicly.)

Thanks. I eagerly look forward to hearing from you.



mompriest said...

Hi Tim,
Thanks for your comment on the Feminist Theology Blog (for the week of Sept. 7). I will add your blog to our blog roll and drop over to yours. I am out of town right now, in Chicagoe actually, so will take care of this as soon as I have time. Blessings!

FranIAm said...

I love the Jonah story - I get the whole running away thing.

What you have put forth here is really great, thanks for your insights.

Tim said...

Mompriest, so glad you dropped by! I too have been busy on the road and trying my best to catch up. As I do with all the blogs listed on S-F, I'd like to introduce the Feminist Theology blog with a brief recommendation. Look for it in the next few days.

Fran, I'm with you--there's a whole lot Jonah in me, too. What's up with that? You'd think by now I'd know it's easier and best to go and stay where I'm supposed to be instead of trying to avoid it... That NEVER works!